Ragnar Bragason’s name will be familiar to many Icelanders, and to a wider international audience as well. While his first feature film, ‘Fiasco’ (Fíaskó), broke ground in 2000, he is perhaps most lauded for his television trilogy “Night Shift” (Næturvaktin), “Day Shift” (Dagvaktin) and “Prison Shift” (Fangavaktin), all featuring Jón Gnarr’s iconic character Georg Bjarnfreðarson.
His latest work, ‘The Garden’ (Gullregn), is a feature film based on a play of the same play that he wrote. Like the Shift series, it employs dark comedy, but it also addresses particularly delicate subject matter: xenophobia.
The view from the La-Z-Boy
In ‘The Garden’, the main character, Indíana Jónsdóttir, lives her life by gaming the social welfare system. At the same time, the neighbourhood where her council estate is located houses a lot of immigrants—whom she believes unfairly game the system and are taking over the country.
“Everything revolves around that La-Z-Boy chair that Indíana has, controlling her kingdom,” Ragnar explains. “Indíana is afraid of everything, she’s afraid of life, she’s afraid of the world outside. She controls her immediate surroundings, the people close to her, in a very calculated manner, but she has no control of the outside world. And that’s the story—when this outside world comes in.”
The outside world comes in the form of Daniella, a Polish woman who is the new girlfriend of Indíana’s son Orri. Daniella’s perspective sheds light on the toxic environment that Indíana has created.
When you live in an unhealthy environment, you’re so co-dependent that you don’t see it or realise it,” Ragnar tells us. “You’re enmeshed in it. So I decided when writing that I needed an outsider to come in, and that person needs to be someone who is not rooted in the Icelandic way of thinking. A guest who would see things clearly. So she’s the only kind of healthy person in the story.”
All too human
“Most of my work tends to tell stories about people on the outskirts of society,” Ragnar says. “Not necessarily outsiders, but people on the fringes, and very often women, because personally I find their stories are often more interesting. Their emotional life is more detailed, and they have more challenges to face. The theme, for me, is the repercussions of violence, the sins of our fathers and mothers. How we still live with that generation after generation. How it is up to us to break that chain.”
With ‘The Garden’, Ragnar seeks to raise uncomfortable questions about Iceland’s self-image.
“Icelanders tend to see ourselves as a nation in a very romantic light,” he says. “We have this image of being an almost perfect country. Which for me is far from the truth. Every society has problems. Xenophobia is very deep-rooted here. Even though we don’t have neo-Nazis marching the streets in large groups, that’s just because we’re so few. There are as many neo-Nazis per capita in Iceland as there are anywhere else. We need to tell stories about social injustice, but I’m not preaching. Often my main characters are very bad people, or people that appear bad in the beginning, but little by little we realise that there’s always a root to everything. Nobody is an island.”
Gullregn can be seen at Smárabíó and Laugarásbíó.
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